CW: discussion of suicide, death, illness, and extenuating circumstances
Hello! We’re reaching the thick of midterm season, and realized there isn’t much of a guide on how student support TAs, head TAs, and instructors can support students navigating more intense situations. We’d like to summarize some of our insights on how to respond to private Piazza posts and student emails dealing with sensitive student information or events that could severely impact a student’s ability to focus on the course.
When something major impacts a student’s life, how we support the student matters most. We should communicate to the student that the deadlines and assignments in our class are not important and should not be their focus as they navigate their circumstances. Immediately after the student reaches out, we should start by telling the student to ignore all the listed deadlines and assignments for the class, stop thinking about the class, and focus on their own circumstances first. The last thing a student should be doing when they’re going through a difficult time is thinking about your class. Only after their immediate concerns subside and they’re ready to think about the class again should you start discussing deadlines or assignments.
If you don’t feel comfortable or prepared to respond to the student on your own, it’s okay to ask for help and rope in other TAs or instructors to help. When adding other people into the conversation, it’s important to make sure that the student is comfortable with those people learning their identity or seeing any confidential information that they choose to share. Also, make sure that you’re only adding people that you trust to navigate sensitive situations; if an instructor or TA has a history of being unaccommodating or discriminative to students, it’s probably better to leave them out of the conversation.
Below are some examples of more intense cases you may see while managing student support. These requests are made-up and do not correspond to any real student, but they are adapted from requests that we’ve seen repeatedly from handling student support over the past few semesters. We’ve also included a sample response for how we would handle these cases.
Handling these issues in a thoughtful and meaningful way is one of the most impactful parts of leading a course - even a few words of support can make a huge difference.
this post is to request an extension on hw 2. i have been dealing with the death of my aunt, and it’s honestly been affecting me to a much larger extent than i previously thought it would. i have reached out to start counseling.
This is a case where the student needs time to grieve and sort out affairs, and you should not be adding any workload on top of that. Our philosophy when drafting responses to this type of request is to not ask for any sort of immediate response. For example, “when do you think you can finish this project?” is putting the burden on the student to impose a deadline on themselves to finish up with their own circumstances. A better alternative is something like “when you’re ready, let us know and we can work out a schedule for finishing the project,” because this gives the student space to focus on more important things before following up with us.
I’m so sorry to hear that. Please don’t worry about the class for now and take care of yourself and your family first. We’ll always be here to help you catch up whenever you’re ready.
If you can’t take the midterm, we can let you replace your midterm score with your scaled final exam score. Don’t worry about any other assignments for now - we’ll get you sorted out with extensions and accommodations whenever you’re ready to complete them.
Best wishes for you and your family,
I am having a hard time, and need help. Since last Wednesday (3/9/22), I have been working to keep my friend/roommate safe. He had a suicide attempt at the end of February, and was released from the hospital last Monday (3/7/22). His family is not available, and the hospital made things worse, so there aren’t any options right now other than me. My other roommate has been helping me make calls to try and get him started with therapy, but his health insurance said they wouldn’t cover it so until appeal he can’t be alone right now.
I have attached his release forms from the hospital, and can provide screenshots of my texts with him and his family. I’m taking [other courses], and have provided them with the same documentation. [one class] has been very understanding and gave me more time, but [the other class] has not been and I am not able to keep up with the coursework on top of taking care of my roommate. I haven’t checked the assignments this week, and I know your course has already given me an extension on previous assignments, and I know I am asking too much but I don’t know what to do. I have been trying to watch lecture but I can’t focus, There are too many calls left to make, I am really overwhelmed and have to finish this first.
Thank you for reaching out. Please don’t worry about our class. The safety and health of you and your friend are of utmost priority and we can discuss a plan for the course after this situation gets resolved.
If you haven’t contacted them already, I’d definitely recommend chatting with one of our department’s CAPS counsellors. I’ve included their drop-in hours and phone numbers at the bottom of this email. I’ve also reached out to our Center of Support and Intervention on campus, the second page of this flier from their website goes over some resources through campus and in our local community. I’ve been in a similar situation in the past, and want to affirm you are not alone. Another person’s safety is a lot to hold, I’d like to do what we can to support yours.
Please call the UC Berkeley Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at (510) 642-9494 for 24/7 access to a counselor by phone.
University Health Services (UHS) offers immediate Mental Health Crisis Support and other resources. Learn more about how to speak to a counselor or other social services here: https://uhs.berkeley.edu/counseling/urgent
EECS CAPS drop-ins:
Tuesdays 2–4 p.m. at (510) 643-7850
Wednesdays 1:30–3:30 p.m. at (415) 484-3480
Thursdays 10 a.m.–noon at (510) 642-6722
Had to go home for an emergency, my dad has been struggling with doctor appointments, don’t have time between cleaning home, managing bills and extended family on top of school. I didn’t finish last week’s assignments, and would like to know if there is any way I could get credit for completing some portion of them in the future.
Students will often refrain from expressing this in too much detail and will instead simply say something like “I am experiencing family struggles”, translated from “I have been dealing with a family emergency that has distracted me from my academics.” or “My parent(s) aren’t feeling great and I need to spend more time taking care of them”. Students will also express “familial obligations”, “unexpected family matters”, or “family emergencies”, all of which can be reduced down to a similar concept. Even if a student doesn’t give specifics, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t facing serious difficulties, and you should respect their confidentiality and treat the request the same as if they had provided all the relevant details.
Please prioritize taking care of yourself and your family; we can always adjust the deadlines in our class as necessary once you’re more ready to focus on the class.
There is a lot on your plate, if you haven’t already, I’d recommend reaching out to the basic needs center on campus for resources while supporting your family: https://basicneeds.berkeley.edu/. If you’re unsure how to proceed, they have a form you can submit to get help navigating their programs.
If it’s helpful, I’m also available to meet and discuss additional adjustments we can make to better support you through this time.
Best wishes for you and your dad,
Fuzail Shakir, Peyrin Kao, Vron Vance, and Shomil Jain contributed to this post.